This guidance is based on our own experience at airports. We cannot guarantee that all airports and airport staff will act in the same way.
The thought of going on a plane is daunting enough when you can see. The whole going on holiday experience is very exciting: going on an adventure, taking in new cultures, eating delicious foods and building memories with friends and family. But for people with disabilities, it can be a daunting and anxious time. This post intends to guide you through the stages of the airport experience.
Checking in and trying to absorb the information given to you is daunting. You have to remember your gate, your seat number, your boarding time... while in the back of your head you’re thinking I have to get from here to the departure lounge. I have to navigate my way through all these people. That’s when the anxiety and apprehension set in. The reality that you are really doing this... and you can do this.
Before checking in, it may be a good idea to take a photo of your luggage so that airport assistance at your arrival destination can help you locate it.
At check-in, if you haven’t already asked for assistance when making your booking, you can ask for it at the check-in desk to help you all the way through to boarding your plane. They’ll provide you with a special assistance lanyard, which makes going through security a lot easier.
Checking in will include being asked questions about where you are flying to, if you are checking in any bags, and handing over passport/ID. Once you have checked-in your bag, they will provide you with a boarding pass, circling the boarding time, seat number and gate (if this is available). If this information is not yet available, you will need to check the screens in the departure lounge, which we will discuss shortly!
Once you have received all your documents and checked-in your bags, you will need to go to security. If you have not asked for assistance, it is a good idea to ask at check-in where security is. They can then point you in the right direction for you to begin your airport experience.
If you have a family member or friend dropping you off at the airport, they are allowed to escort you through until you reach security. They will be required to leave at security if they are without a boarding pass.
At some airports, you will reach a security gate which requires you to scan the bar code or QR code found on your boarding pass. These are usually very temperamental, and so there are always a few people, disabled or not, who ask for help with scanning their boarding passes to be let through.
Where you have asked for assistance or your disability is visible, they will direct you to a special assistance line (if the airport has one). This can often be beneficial as the line is usually shorter and staff are more informative about how they will approach your needs and aid you through the process.
Some airports do not have these special assistance lines, so we recommend telling the person who helps pack the bags onto the conveyor that you have a disability. They should communicate this with the staff member that works on the detector. We have found that we usually have to put the white cane through with our bags. A staff member will support you by guiding you in and out of the scanner and then escort you to your belongings once they’ve been checked.
The departure lounge will be a different layout at every airport. For most, they consist of a few restaurants, a few shops, toilets, currency exchanges, airline lounges, and a lot of open seating. The whole area is often surrounded by departure boards containing a list of all flights. It includes the airline, destination, flight number, departure time, and gate. They are always listed in ascending departure time – the 11:25 flight will be listed above the 11:45 flight. If you are unable to see the departure boards, you can ask someone at the information point in the departure lounge, who can point you in the direction of the gate. We also recommend taking a photo of the departure board and zooming in on your phone (especially if you have a terrible memory).
You’ll usually have some spare time to spend in the departure lounge, especially if you’re like us and get there ridiculously early. Take this time to calm down and relax, grab some food, and maybe do a little shopping!
We will be doing a part-two post on getting from the departure lounge to your plane seat. Watch this space.